Neil Davidson & Michael Duch · Øra
Recorded in the small Norwegian town of Øra, from which the album takes its name, this meeting of two acoustic string instruments belies the simplicity of its instrumentation through the complexity and diversity of the music produced. Ranging from careful melodic a/tonal interplay to dense full spectrum harmonics, capturing the versatility and inventiveness of these musicians.
This new release from the UK label Consumer Waste features four untitled improvisations from Glasgow guitarist Neil Davidson and Norwegian double bassist Michael Duch. Although unusual on the face of it, the combination of mostly bowed acoustic guitar with a likewise mostly bowed double bass is a felicitous one. The four tracks, although differing from each other in sometimes significant ways, have in common an architecture constructed of overlapping planes joined or separated by varying rhythmic patterns. This comes out most clearly in the third track, in which staggered arpeggios on the guitar form the ground for irregularly placed bowed lines from the bass; the superimposition of variably phrased parts makes for gradually shifting patterns of rhythmic repetition. By contrast, the fourth track sets out a regular pulse by way of Duch’s spiccato bowing; Davidson’s bowed guitar creates a chime-like wash of sound on top, the timbre of which complements and contrasts with the bass by turns as the bow moves toward and away from the bridge. The long first track reverses these functions as the bowed guitar provides the pulse, while a drone in the bass sets up harmonic interference patterns between the two instruments. The second track is an interesting essay on timbre, featuring Duch’s flautando bowing over Davidson’s chords.
Intrigued by the unfamiliar term, I looked it up and could only find it used as the initial word of the Oera Linda Book, a tome of dubious provenance. A lovely word, in any case.
The first piece sets up a fine, continuous stream of sound, Davidson bowing his guitar rapidly (I assume it's a bow of some sort, but I could be entirely mistaken and that something else is being rubbed across the strings), Duch playing almost exclusively arco in longer, broader sweeps, creating a very rich web, sustained for some 18 minutes but with (relatively) minor variations in dynamics, tonality and harmonics abounding. There's even a point, late int he piece after a particularly deep drone has set in, that a handful of bass plucks recalls classic Charlie Haden. Excellent work. The second track is a far more astringent one, the guitar plucked, the bass bowed in high regions; ok, but the kind of thing routinely heard over the years. The third (all are untitled) is fuller, almost pastoral in a refreshing and hesitant way, deep short bowings by Duch buffeted by gentle but questioning strums from Davidson; both taut and sensitive. The last track returns to the general climes of the first, Duch bowing at a quicker pace, Davidson generating wonderful, high harmonics. Again, the tempo is maintained more or less throughout, the space completely carpeted. And again, the result is totally engrossing, time-suspending. Good stuff, likely my favorite music I've heard from either.
I hadn’t previously come across the work of guitarist Neil Davidson and double bassist Michael Duch: the former has contributed to numerous releases on labels such as Another Timbre and Creative Sources, whereas the latter is a member of improvising ensemble Lemur and also performs in a trio with John Tilbury and Rhodri Davies. “Øra”, their first collaborative recording, is a curious release in that it is split equally between two contrasting approaches.
The first and last tracks (all four named only by their duration) are very much sound-led, in the sense that the focus seems very much on the timbres and textures created by the glistening shimmer of Davidson’s (presumably bowed?) acoustic guitar and Duch’s sometimes deep and thunking, sometimes long and keening double bass. While there is some movement and development, the structure could be described as kaleidoscopic, rotating around a single point while varying the configurations of colours and shapes. The middle two tracks, in contrast, present a more gesture-based approach: this time a sense of performance overshadows timbral concerns, with more to-ing and fro-ing, more dialogue, more tension-and-release — in short, more of what one would expect from a ‘traditional’ free improvisation.
One’s experience of the album therefore depends very much on the kind of approach preferred: some will be enchanted by the tonal magic wrought by the opening and closing tracks, while others will prefer hearing the duo get on and play something. Either way, the record neatly demonstrates two potent forces acting on current improvised music, presupposing two different historical currents and two different understandings of the role and agency of the artist. In a way, the sounds that become detached from the act of performance and gain their own objecthood in the sound-led pieces are re-grounded and re-inscribed as gesture in the more ‘performed’ pieces, in concurrence with the re-assertion of the musicians’ selfhood.
What the record doesn’t achieve is the putting into question of that performing selfhood, in the way that a work by someone like Nick Hennies might — the nudge and wink of sound production as performance theatre is absent, and I was never intrigued by the thought of what might lie behind the sound. This is an observation rather than a criticism, however, as Davidson and Duch are clearly working with very different aims in mind. The switching between two modes evident on “Øra” is far from schizophonic, to mis-use R.M. Schafer’s term, but rather is always controlled, considered, and assured; the deep, glistening waves of the more timbrally-oriented pieces I found particularly absorbing.
Two quite different releases on Consumer Waste, but both of them in their usual very nicely home spun letterpress covers, and both in an edition of 100 copies.
On the other new release we find music from Neil Davidson on acoustic guitar and Michael Duch on double bass. They have four pieces of improvised music on offer here, and most likely I would think they are recorded live with maybe a bit of editing - but for all I know: maybe not. I don’t think I heard of them before and I know nothing about them. But I must say these four pieces sound quite interesting. These musicians are both into playing minimal music, using both bows to play the strings. They use all sort of techniques in doing that, but it’s not exclusively this. Plucking, especially the double bass, and strumming the guitar are also part of their approach. They play sustaining music, perhaps drone like, but it’s not of the the kind where it all seems to be on auto-repeat. This seems all manually played with hand movements, rather than loop devices and such trickery. That makes up music that is very ‘human’, with all of these gentle movements, which not always work out in exactly the same way, but which altogether create a vast, shimmering introspective piece of music. The two pieces that are well under ten minutes are more like a fixed piece, and the two longer than ten are more textured and perhaps also a bit more dense (and intense?), and it showcases two sides of what they can achieve when playing this. Introspective in the first longer piece, and more nervous and hectic in the second one. Quite a varied bunch altogether but all four pieces are of a great quality.